Advent 4 – The Gift 2

Scripture:  Ephesians 2:8-9

The gifts that we give to one another at Christmas sometimes have tiny strings attached to them; expectations to receive something of similar value in return, such as a gift or good will.  Perhaps we seek to use gifts not as expressions of our love, but as replacements for our love.  We use them as a way of getting around the time and emotional investments which are necessary to any relationship.  If the gift of Christ is God giving us Himself, how could we ever hope to measure up to this gift?  What could we possibly offer in return?  Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks to this very question:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Our salvation through Christ is a gift in the purest sense.  There is absolutely nothing that we have done to be deserving of it.  As a matter of fact, based only on our works, we deserved punishment rather than salvation.  Our sinful nature carried all of our thoughts and deeds away as captives to serve it.  Fortunately, the gift of God does not depend on us or what we do to earn it.  It is a gift that is freely given with no strings attached.

One might ask, “What about all of those rules and commandments?  Aren’t Christians supposed to obey God?  Isn’t that an exchange:  you obey God so that He will save you from hell?”  That would be true we were able reach God’s standard of holiness through our own efforts.  However, that argument goes at the process backwards.  Instead of us earning our way into God’s love by following His commandments and example in Christ, God loves us and forms us into the image of Christ.  Our role is to accept the gift that He gives us and cooperate with the forming process.  As we are shaped by God, we keep His commands as a result of the change that has taken place within us.  In other words, we do not make ourselves worthy of God.  God does that for us.  The apostle Paul writes the following on the matter:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” -2 Corinthians 3:17-18

As Christians, we are born of God and not of human means.  The apostle John writes the following of Christ:

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” –John 1:12-13

In Christ’s work on the cross, we are given the free gift of becoming children of God, born of God.  Christ opens up the way for us and thus He says to the disciples:

“…I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” –John 14:6

This mighty work of God, in which He reaches down to lift us up to Himself, reaches fulfillment in Christ whose birth we now celebrate.  Christ’s birth signals the beginning of a new birth for us:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things become new.” -2 Corinthians 5:17

When God gives us Christ, gives us Himself, He gives us more than a get out of hell free card.  He gives us new life here and now.  This is the new life that we are born into as we are transformed into the image of Christ.  We are delivered from God’s wrath in hell, but we are also delivered from the state of living death that we are in as long as we are slaves to sin.  The salvation of God comes in the form of the child born and laid in a manger in Bethlehem so many years ago.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign to you:  you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’”

 -Luke 2:8-14

The question, now, is how will you respond to God this Christmas?


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